Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to Bill C-60, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons).
This is an important bill. The Conservatives have used news stories to score political points. When the Conservatives introduce bills that are tough on crime or that amend the Criminal Code, we must always consider why and whether we want our society to go in that direction.
I will read the summary of Bill C-60.
This enactment amends the Criminal Code to enable a person who owns or has lawful possession of property, or persons authorized by them, to arrest within a reasonable time a person whom they find committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property. It also amends the Criminal Code to simplify the provisions relating to the defences of property and persons.
The bill significantly broadens the notion of self-defence and slightly broadens that of citizen's arrest.
It is evident that the Bloc Québécois would like to study this bill in committee. The bill touches on a very sensitive and important matter: the right to defend oneself. For the Bloc Québécois, defending oneself and one's property, within reasonable limits, is a fundamental right. It is already permitted by law, but the law is too restrictive. Therefore, we support legislative amendments that would enable an honest citizen to defend himself and his property, as well as others.
However, the amount of violence used must not increase in our societies. It is important to understand that we want citizens to be able to protect themselves and their property, but that the objective must not be to increase violence in Quebec and the rest of Canada.
Quebec must not become a wild west, in which case everyone would lose. Some provisions of this bill are worrisome and could, in the short to medium term, give rise to undesirable situations. For that reason, we will conscientiously do all the necessary work to thoroughly study the bill and to ensure that we are all winners in the end.
This bill was introduced on February 17, and it broadens the concept of self-defence and citizen's arrest, particularly in terms of protecting property. This is in response to an incident in Toronto, where a business owner was arrested and taken to court for catching and detaining a man who had robbed him. This arrest of an honest citizen, who had repeatedly asked for police help without any response, outraged the public, which is completely understandable. It is terrible to think that a business owner was charged for taking justice into his own hands after being robbed repeatedly and not getting help from the police.
In Toronto, and in Quebec too, a significant portion of the public feels that criminals are too well protected and that the law does more to protect the criminal than the victim. So it is not surprising that the members of the NDP and the Liberal Party have introduced bills to broaden the concept of citizen's arrest. However, these private members' bills only slightly broadened the notion of citizen's arrest. The bill before us today substantially broadens the notion of self-defence. That is obviously the Conservative way. The Conservatives are taking advantage of a current event to push their ideology.We need to take these factors into consideration and try to strike a balance, because the Conservative stance is too dogmatic and society needs to move in the right direction.
As for citizen's arrest, Bill C-60 would amend the law to allow a property owner to make an arrest. Basically, a property owner would be given the right to arrest, within a reasonable time, a criminal who committed an offence, if the property owner has reasonable grounds to believe that it would not be possible for a peace officer to make an arrest under the circumstances.
Under the Criminal Code, a citizen already has the right to arrest a person whom he finds committing an indictable offence. This bill would prolong that right within a reasonable time after the offence is committed.
Subsection 494(2) of the Criminal Code currently states:
...(a) the owner or a person in lawful possession of property, or
(b) a person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property, may arrest without warrant a person whom he finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.
Bill C-60 amends subsection 494(2) as follows:
The owner or a person in lawful possession of property, or a person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property, may arrest a person without a warrant if they find them committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property and
(a) they make the arrest at that time; or
(b) they make the arrest within a reasonable time after the offence is committed and they believe on reasonable grounds that it is not feasible in the circumstances for a peace officer to make the arrest.
The goal is to prolong the reasonable time after the offence is committed in which the individual or criminal can be arrested.
Bill C-60 addresses two aspects: citizen's arrest and self-defence. It amends only very slightly the notion of citizen's arrest, the mechanism at the core of the problem.
Regarding citizen's arrest, we all more or less agree on adding the words “within a reasonable time after the offence is committed”. In fact, previous bills introduced by NDP and Liberal members already addressed this aspect of Bill C-60.
The Conservatives want to introduce sweeping changes with regard to self-defence. In fact, the Conservatives' bill removes the requirement of need in the use of force in self-defence.
In clear terms, the bill eliminates a very important guideline, namely that we are not allowed to use force that could result in the death of the attacker unless absolutely necessary. Under current legislation, one has to be able to prove the need for force in self-defence. Bill C-60 adds the possibility to defend oneself in reaction to a threat without defining what type of threat is likely to lead to legal violence. This smacks of Conservative ideology, whereby citizens have the right to defend themselves by using whatever force necessary. This could be translated to mean that a person could go so far as to commit irreparable harm and kill another human being. We have to wonder.
Bill C-60 proposes a major change that is easy to see by comparing the current provisions to those desired by the Conservatives. I will read the current subsection 34(1) on self-defence:
Every one who is unlawfully assaulted without having provoked the assault is justified in repelling force by force if the force he uses is not intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm and is no more than is necessary to enable him to defend himself.
In the current section, it is clear that when we react to an attack, we can use no more force than necessary to repel the attack, and we must not have any intention of causing death, unless the person wanted to kill us. That is different. This is a very important guideline in the current legislation that the Conservatives are changing.
Section 34(1) of the Criminal Code currently states: “in repelling force by force if the force he uses is not intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm and is no more than is necessary to enable him to defend himself.” This has been replaced by the new section 34(1), which states:
A person is not guilty of an offence if
(a) they believe on reasonable grounds that force is being used against them or another person or that a threat of force is being made against them or another person;
(b) the act that constitutes the offence is committed for the purpose of defending or protecting themselves or the other person from that use or threat of force...
The words “not intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm” have been removed. That means that individuals do not really first have to consider whether they are using enough force to cause death. What section 34(1) of the Criminal Code says is that the person who is using the force really must not intend to cause death, unless such force is required to repel the assault.
Clearly, there will be many legal debates but we can certainly see the Conservatives' ideology: people may do everything necessary to protect themselves, including killing, and they do not need to determine whether their attacker is trying to kill them before reacting in the same way.
This is disturbing. We will have to see what effects this will have. It is true that there are situations in which individuals must be able to defend themselves. Self-defence exists in the Criminal Code. However, if this bill passes, we do not want people to say that, if they are attacked, they can defend themselves and it is no big deal if they kill their attacker because the Criminal Code was amended and they are no longer required to first consider whether committing an irreparable harm and taking a human life is necessary, because the attacker was trying to take their life.
We must pay close attention to the Conservatives' philosophy and ideology. The Republicans in the United States have this unfortunate tendency. The Conservatives, who are no longer “progressive”, have the same unfortunate tendency: anything can be done in self-defence, even killing, because, in any case, an attacker does not deserve to live.
That is not the kind of society we want. In the House, we can try to use words, legislation, a text, commas and other devices to make things easier by amending the Criminal Code after seeing an incident on television. Perhaps in the future, someone might kill a human being in self-defence because he was attacked and no longer needed to determine beforehand whether his life was in danger. Suppose a neighbour came onto his property and harangued him, and since this individual felt attacked, he might react by getting out a rifle and shooting the neighbour. In that case, we would have to do the opposite: make the Criminal Code more strict and bring back the section that we are trying to amend today.
It is a fine line when bills like these are introduced by the Conservatives. According to their right-wing ideology, they think that people who pay taxes can do whatever they want. But that is not how society works. That is not the society that our ancestors have handed down to us. That is a right-wing society. Yes, criminals must be punished and we must be able to use self-defence. Subsection 34(1) of the Criminal Code stipulates that, “...the force he uses is not intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm and is no more than is necessary to enable him to defend himself.” A person would have to think twice before shooting an attacking neighbour.
We will have to see. That is why the Bloc Québécois is in favour of sending Bill C-60 to be studied in committee. There, we will be able to discuss it and hear from witnesses.
We need to work with the Quebec and Canadian bar associations to determine what kind of a bill would make our society more enjoyable to live in. But we cannot go overboard and allow a person to take another's life in self-defence unless he feels his own life is in danger.
One potential concern about citizens' arrests is that the amendment could be misunderstood and things could get out of hand. In fact, Halifax's deputy chief of police suggested that the federal government urge caution in the use of citizens' arrest. This is not only to ensure that a well-intentioned person does not commit a crime, but also to remind people that an arrest involves risks and that an ordinary person is not as likely as a police officer to be able to get control of someone who has committed a crime. We cannot forget that police officers are trained to handle situations where there is a high risk of error, and they have the techniques and equipment to be able to adapt to different situations.
If this bill is passed, a citizen's arrest could be used to arrest a person after the crime has been committed. That means the arrest could take place far from where the crime was committed. It could happen on the street. We have the statement from Halifax's deputy chief of police, but the committee would also need to hear from police officers. If we allow this, if we open it up, are we putting business people's lives in danger? It is very frustrating and maddening to be robbed over and over, and if the robber can be arrested, so much the better.
However, if this results in more business people being seriously injured by criminals, I am not sure that we have improved the situation. Well-intentioned people, those in business and others, could even be putting their lives in danger if they decide to pursue a criminal. We need to be careful. Even if the intention is good and commendable, the bill still needs to be studied in committee.
That is the work that needs to be done. For the people watching at home, I would like to reiterate the fact that bills are introduced in Parliament but that the work is done in committee. Bills are examined in committee so that witnesses can be called to try to explain to us whether the bill would help our society to progress. When the witnesses have reservations, we listen to them. In the case of a bill such as this one, it is normal for police representatives to be invited to appear before the committee to tell us whether the bill would help our society progress.
With regard to self-defence, some amendments are well founded, for example, the right to defend someone who is not under our protection. However, the expansion of this regime is worrisome. It is true that many of the provisions of the Criminal Code are archaic and it is important and worthwhile to make amendments because society is changing. That is the perspective from which the Bloc Québécois has always considered bills amending the Criminal Code. We try to see whether the amendments to the Criminal Code would help society to change for the better and would be beneficial to society.
As far as self-defence is concerned, introducing the fact that we can defend someone who is not under our protection can be worthwhile because the population is growing more and more and we know each other less and less. If someone sees a crime being committed, they might want to step in and defend someone else. Being able to adjust the Criminal Code accordingly is a good idea. We have to look into that.
I have two examples of situations that could become legal and could occur more and more. These are hypothetical cases, but they could happen if we pass Bill C-60 as currently worded. In the first scenario, a dispute over a fence degenerates and one neighbour utters death threats against the other and his family. The threatened neighbour, fearing for his life and wanting to defend his property, lunges toward the offender and kills him. He justifies his action by saying the police could not get involved and that neither his safety nor that of his family could be protected for the long term. In that type of case, we would never really know whether the deceased neighbour really intended to make good on his threats. We have to be careful.
In another scenario, a young person shoplifts at a convenience store. The cashier, outraged at this repeated offence in his store, shoves a rifle in the offender's face and kills him, or fires a shot as the young person is fleeing the scene, fatally wounding him.
We have to consider how society will benefit from this bill.